One “truth” about ancestry research is that it’s easy to get pulled in a lot of different directions and hard to stay focused on one ancestor’s story. A key purpose of the blog format, other than to encourage regular writing, is to get family stories and accumulated research on paper – or whatever equates to paper in today’s online world.
Research is important to make sure you’re telling YOUR family story and not somebody else’s but without compelling details our ancestors tend to be just another name on a page. When there’s a bit of intrigue (and I haven’t met a family yet who doesn’t have some) so much the better. So with that in mind, let’s find out about Custode Iacobucci George.
Rick found Custode’s name on the WWI draft registration card of Frederick William George, her first son and Rick’s grandfather. The card was dated September 1917 and listed Custode George at 128 Connellsville Street, Dunbar, PA as Fred’s nearest relative. With that information it was easy to find Custode George in the US Census records for 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940. It helps that she stayed put and that she had a distinctive first name (even though she was sometimes identified as Christine).
From the census reports we know that Custode was born in Italy around 1880 and immigrated to the US in 1897. We later confirmed her birthdate as 27 May 1880 from other sources.We don’t know where in Italy she was from but we’re guessing Castel di Sangro. We don’t know her parents’ names but we know she had an older sister named Rose/Rosie Buzzella. Rose was already a widow in 1910 and lived with Adrian and Custode in Dunbar. It is unclear how long Rose lived with Custode or how close they were to each other. Custode’s grandchildren remember Rose as being happy – “she was always smiling even though she only had two teeth – one on the top and one on the bottom.”
Custode’s early life will remain a mystery for now but we do know she married Adriano George on February 13, 1899 in Pittsburgh, PA. She was busy having children from about 1899 to 1912 and according to her testimony in the 1912 lawsuit – she and Adrian had eight children. One daughter – Lucia Lydia – died in 1916 at age seven and is buried at St. Aloysius Cemetery in Dunbar.
In addition to taking care of her children, Custode helped Adrian in their store in Dunbar up until 1912 when Adrian left town and declared bankruptcy. If you’ve been to Dunbar lately, it might be hard to believe that in the early 1900’s it was a thriving town. There were several hotels and the railroad and coke furnaces provided work for the burgeoning immigrant community.
In every Census report after 1910, when she was listed as Adrian’s wife, Custode is listed as the head of household. She owned the house she lived in, which ranged in value from $2,500 in 1930 to $800 in 1940. When Rick and I visited Dunbar in the summer of 2013, we took pictures of the house and I’ll try to post them in a future post. Custode never listed her occupation or income in any of the Census reports. It is possible that her children supported her. Her second oldest son Gene lived with her until the late 1930s and I understand her daughters Philomena and Lena also lived nearby.
An interesting article appeared in the February 4, 1931 Connellsville Daily Courier. It suggests there may have been another man in Custode’s life after Adriano’s departure in 1912. The article announces funeral services for V “Jimmy” Versace, a section foreman on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad who was killed when struck by passenger train number 69. From the 1930 Census report we know that the V stands for Vincenzo. The connection to Custode appears in the last paragraph:
“The body was taken from the J.E. Sims funeral home to the residence of Mrs. Custode George, in Dunbar, where Mr. Versace had made his home for 18 years.”
Sounds like Jimmy Versace made his home at the residence of Custode George for the 18 years prior to his death in 1931. Don’t rush for your calculators – it would mean he began living there in 1913 – the year after Adrian left town. Perhaps he was a boarder and that might give a clue as to how Custode continued to support her family before her sons were old enough to work. It was very common for immigrants to take in boarders, especially more recent immigrants from their country.
Whether or not there was anything going on between Custode and Vincenzo, claiming a dead body is an extremely intimate act, so I’m inclined to believe that Custode and Jimmy were more than neighbors. I also know from other Census reports that he had a brother living in Dunbar so it’s not as if Custode was the only one who could do it. His brother was the administrator of Jimmy’s estate so on another trip to Uniontown, I need to check that estate file.